Dementia and Driving Issues

Many families have faced the issue of driving when dementia is suspected or diagnosed. We used everything from a family intervention to a detached starter to try to thwart my parent’s ability to get behind the wheel of their car. Our complication was two parents that posed a united front. They have managed for years together. Now, we are just faced with two very independent and stubborn people who don’t recognize the safety hazard they pose behind the wheel.

The real issue has been how do we respect our parents, help them keep as much independence as they can manage, provide them with outlets to live a life with purpose and meaning while keeping the public safe? Not that I figured all that out, but here is what I have done and learned if you find yourself walking in my shoes:

All of these things have occurred a multitude of times and been offered by a variety of people – both family, medical personnel and even neighbors.

  1. Both parents have a dementia diagnosis.
  2. Medical personnel have verbally and in writing recommended my parents stop driving.
  3. Medical personnel have verbally spent the time to explain my parents’ diagnosis.
  4. All four children have held a family meeting with our parents to convey our concerns (twice).
  5. All four children have followed up in writing and by phone with specific concerns as events have unfolded (infinity).
  6. We have offered or arranged to eliminate the need for them to drive by
    1. giving rides.
    2. bringing in groceries  or preparing meals.
    3. finding other transportation solutions.

If none of those have worked and they still continue to drive, ask the doctor to submit the medical forms to rescind their license. If you are noticing the dementia, consider that it will also be impacting their ability to make swift and good decisions behind the wheel of a car.

There doesn’t seem to be much recognition or training in the medical community on how to deal with this – I hope that changes.

I consider myself lucky that we found Dr. J. She was so concerned when she ran into my parents in two different hospitals on two different days that not only did she sit my parents down and try to explain what was going on but she gave them time to find a solution. She told them she was submitting the paperwork to have their licenses revoked.

In Virginia, the doctor completes a form and submits it with the medical testing. I was told in about 1 to 2 weeks, those drivers will get a notice in the mail. According to the information on the VA DMV website: “In cases where the driver’s physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant submits an initial impaired driver report which recommends that the person no longer drive, DMV sends the driver a suspension order which takes effect in five days.”

When I called to ask how the timing really works, I was told the drivers have 30 days to provide medical evidence to validate their ability to drive. After 30 days, their license is revoked if they are unable to provide documentation regarding a reversal of the diagnosis. Specifically, the VA DMV web site states that the “DMV promptly reviews all impaired driver reports. The agency notifies the driver that he or she is required to complete one or more of the following actions:

  1. Submit a medical and/or vision report from a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant.
  2. Pass the two-part driver’s license exam.
  3. Pass the road skills test.

The driver must comply with the requirements within 30 days. If the initial requirement is a medical and/or vision report and it is approved, DMV may require the driver to successfully complete the knowledge and/or road skills tests. The driver is notified in writing and given an additional 15 days to comply. If the driver does not comply with the requirements or does not pass the required tests, DMV immediately suspends the driver’s privilege to operate a motor vehicle.”

The “what about” questions explode in my brain until I have almost made myself hyperventilate. Will my parents understand when they get a notice that their license is suspended? What about insurance? What if my parents continue to try to drive even after their licenses have been suspended?

My siblings and I are working through solutions together. Battle-readied.


Additional resources:

Dementia & Driving from the Family Caregiver Alliance

Virginia DMV Form to be completed by Medical Personnel  – As stated on their web site, “to ensure the safety of motorists on Virginia’s highways, drivers must meet certain requirements including vision, medical and mental standards.”

If you have links to the resources within your state, I hope you will add it through comments.

6 thoughts on “Dementia and Driving Issues

  1. Good luck! You have done the best you can so far. I think if they get notice their licenses are suspended (both of them) you could contact the insurance company as they probably got that notice too and then take away their car keys. It is almost impossible to have a rational discussion with irrational people. You can ask the DMV what is usually done to stop people with dementia from driving. It could involve a lawyer and a judge declaring them not competent so you could sell the car. That could be very difficult for you and them. Ask for suggestions for other solutions short of a court order. Perhaps a mechanic can make the car not work or something like that. Good luck!

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